• Introduction
  • Batak reaction time test
  • Deary-Liewald reaction time task
  • Electromyography (EMG) tests
  • Jensen box
  • MOART reaction time panel
  • Numbers-based reaction time box
  • Online reaction time tests
  • Posner reaction time test
  • The ruler drop test
  • Sources

Introduction

Reaction time tests are used to measure how long it takes to detect, recognize, and create a suitable response to a visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), or kinesthetic (touch) stimulus. But before we start testing your reaction time, we have to remind you of its three categories; simple reaction time, complex reaction time, and detection response time.

  • Simple reaction time: one stimulus and one response.
  • Choice reaction time: multiple stimuli to respond to, each stimulus has a specific response.
  • Detection response time: multiple stimuli, only one response to one specific stimulus with no response to others.

The speed of the response is highly related to the intensity of the stimulus, if the stimulus needs to be recognized and not just detected, and if there are several stimuli to choose from. The reason for this is that complex stimuli require more time to process than simple tasks. On top of this, the type of stimulus also has an impact on reaction time. On average, a kinesthetic stimulus creates the fastest response (110-170ms), then auditory (140-160ms), and then visual (180-200ms). With these variables in mind, it is easy to see why there’s no one-size-fits-all methods to test your reaction time. 

This article explains the basic reaction time tests and how to use them. We’ve also created in-depth articles on how reaction time affects your athletic ability as well as how to train your reaction time. Feel free to read them too if you’re interested.

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Non-computerized tests


Ruler drop test

Computerized tests


Batak reaction time testDeary-Liewald reaction time taskEMG testsJensen boxNumbers-based reaction time boxOnline reaction time testsPosner reaction time test

Batak reaction time test

The Batak system utilizes a light board with 12 separate, randomly lit lights that remain on until they are touched. Once a light has been touched, another target light appears on the board. The most common programs last 30-60s, in which the subject must strike out as many lights as possible. Each touch is counted as a single point and added to the overall score. 

The system has several different routines, such as a 3-minute Batakathon, 50-target race, timed 50-target race, and 4-corner stretch, which lights up 100 corners randomly. The company also has a Batak lite version that is more easily accessible for the public. 

The Batak system has been tested in several studies and it has displayed sufficient reliability and diagnostic accuracy when measuring reaction time. 

Deary-Liewald reaction time task

The Deary-Liewald task is used to measure reaction time and general intelligence. It has two separate functions; a simple reaction time task where the participant presses a button on a computer keyboard in response to a single stimulus, as well as a four-choice reaction time task where the subject must press the key that corresponds to the correct response. 

The simple reaction time task has a single white square in the center of the screen with a blue background. The stimulus that the subject must respond to is a diagonal cross within the square. Each time the cross appears, the participant must respond to it as quickly as possible by pressing any key on the keyboard. The cross also remained on the screen until a button was pressed, and reappeared randomly 1-3s after. 

The choice reaction time test is otherwise similar but involves four squares instead of just one. The keys correspond to the boxes as such: 

  • Left = z
  • Second to left = x
  • Second from right = comma
  • Right = full-stop

The participants must respond to the stimulus by pressing the corresponding key as quickly as possible. After any of the four keys are pressed, the cross disappears. The Deary-Liewald task then calculates the reaction times and in whether the response was correct (in choice reaction time test).

The Deary-Liewald reaction time test can be freely downloaded here.

Electromyography (EMG) tests

Electromyography, or EMG tests, consists of several different measurements that are performed in a laboratory setting. The tests themselves are done by inserting several surface electrodes on the skin, usually on the calf, glute, hamstring, or quadriceps muscle.

These electrodes are connected to a computer that analyzes the electrical current inside the muscle. Once a specific signal (such as a starting pistol) has occurred, the computer accurately calculates the time between the stimulus and muscle activation.

While EMG tests are extremely accurate in estimating reaction time, they are not easily accessible for the general public. They are often only found in universities, research laboratories, and very well-equipped training facilities.

Jensen box

The standard Jensen box is roughly 30.5cm (12in) deep and 50.8cm (20in) wide. It also has a sloping face with eight buttons arranged into a semicircle, as well as a home button in the center. Each button has an LED above it, which illuminate randomly while the built-in speaker system plays alerting sounds. 

The Jensen box is used to measure reaction time in two ways: the time between the light signal and releasing the home button, and the time it takes to press the target button. Thus, it effectively measures decision time and movement time separately. Once the procedure is over, the variance and standard deviation can be used to measure individual differences between subjects. 

MOART reaction time panel

The MOART panel is a reaction time measuring device that uses a Multi-Operational Apparatus for Reaction Time (MOART) system. Created by Lafayette instruments, the MOART panel consists of four buttons on each side of the panel, and two in the center. 

The panel can be used to measure simple reaction time via Go/No Go tasks and tap tests, as well as more complex choice reaction time tasks. It can even measure how long it takes to receive a stimulus and create movement. 

The system also comes with a PsymCon for digital control, and has a variety of other accessories that help create customized experiments and data reports. 

Numbers-based reaction time box

The numbers reaction box was originally designed for the UK Health and Lifestyle Survey. It was used to provide data on aging, correlation with intelligence as well as association with mortality. The consisted of an LCD screen and five buttons, each with a number from zero to four written above it. 

The stimulus for the response is a number that appears on the LCD screen. Once the number is visible, the subjects are asked to respond by pressing the correct button as quickly as possible. This was made to measure complex reaction time. 

The numbers reaction box was also used to measure simple reaction time with only the number zero appearing on the screen. Similar to the Deary-Liewald reaction time task, the numbers box showed a new number randomly every 1-3s. The box recorded deviation of response times as well as the number of errors in complex reaction time tests.

Clinical studies standardize reaction time tests by performing them in a closed setting and using the same methods and equipment.

Online reaction time tests

Modern technology has brought different reaction time tests to everyone’s fingertips. Nowadays, it is easy to find a variety of different reaction time testing methods with just a quick search on google. Here’s a list of some of our favorite online testing websites. 

Although it might be fun to check your results with different online reaction time tests, they are very seldom used for scientific purposes. The reason for this is that different computers and screens vary in latency, making it difficult to standardize.

For example, older LCD screens may have up to 18ms latency, whereas newer models this can be closer to 2-4ms. Thus, better screens may show the information almost 14ms sooner. Another big factor is the video card of a computer. A slower card often has a visible delay between the upper and lower part of the screen. So, take these results with a grain of salt!

Posner reaction time test

The Posner reaction time test, also known as the Posner cueing task, is used to assess manual and eye-movement reaction times in response to different cues. This method is often used to assess spatial attention, especially after a brain injury. 

During the test, a computer screen is situated at eye-level in front of the subject. The subject is asked to fixate on a spot/cross at the center of the screen with two boxes on each sides. Then, a target stimulus (such as a shape) appears on one of the boxes. As soon as the target is detected, the subject presses a computer keyboard. This accurately measures the reaction time. 

This entire set is repeated several times to get an accurate reading. Overall, the Posner paradigm is very effective in measuring attentional allocation. 

The Ruler drop test

The ruler drop test has long been used in studies as one of the most reliable and valid ways to measure reaction time without the help of computer-based software. And, the best part is that it only requires one simple item found in every household – a ruler. The procedure itself is very simple:

  1. The subject must sit on a chair with good posture and eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. The subject holds out their hand and extend the thumb and index finger so that they are 8cm apart. 
  3. Then, the accomplice holds a ruler vertically between the two fingers with lowest numbers near the subject’s hand. The ruler must be 2cm above the fingers.
  4. The accomplice then drops the ruler and the subject must catch it between the thumb and index finger as quickly as possible. 
  5. The number just over the subject’s thumb is used to calculate their reaction time. The lower the number, the faster the reaction time. 
  6. This test is often conducted several times and the results are averaged to get an accurate reading.

The distance the ruler travels can be converted to time by using the equation d (in cm) = (1/2)(980 cm/sec²)t². The 980cm/sec² refers to the acceleration due to Earth’s gravitation.

In some cases, the ruler drop test can be varied to be caught on a specific word cue. This method can then be used to measure complex reaction time.

Here’s a quick conversion chart if you want to calculate your own reaction time.

Distance

Time


5cm (2in)

0.10s (100ms)


10cm (4in)

0.14s (140ms)


15cm (6in)

0.16s (160ms)


20cm (8in)

0.20s (200ms)


25cm (10in)

0.23s (230ms)


30cm (12in)

0.25s (250ms)


35cm (14in)

0.27s (270ms)


40cm (16in)

0.29s (290ms)


The average result among adults ranges between 15.9-20.4cm.

Sources

  • Aranha, V.P., Joshi, R., Samuel, A.J. & Sharma, K. (2015) Catch the Moving Ruler and Estimate Reaction Time in Children. Indian Journal of Medical & Health Sciences. Volume 2, Number (1), pp. 23-26.
  • Del Rossi, G., Malaguti, A. & Del Rossi, S. (2014) Practice Effects Associated With Repeated Assessment of a Clinical Test of Reaction time. Journal of Athletic Training. Volume 49, Issue (3), pp. 356-359. 
  • Davis, B., Phillips, R., Roscoe, J. & Roscoe, D. (2000) Physical Education and the Study of Sport. UK London: Harcourt Publishers Ltd.
  • Deary, I.J., Liewald D.C.M. & Nissan, J. (2011). A free, easy-to-use, computer-based simple and four-choice reaction time programme: The Deary-Liewald reaction time task. Behaviour Research Methods. Volume 43, Issue (1), pp. 258-268.
  • Jensen, A.R. (1987). Individual differences in the Hick paradigm. In P. A. Vernon (Ed.), Speed of information-processing and intelligence (p. 101–175). Ablex Publishing.
  • Mateus, N., Skrupskelis, T. & Leite, N. (2017) Early sports involvement and improvements in reaction time: a specific training program approach. Motricidade. Volume 13, Issue (1), pp. 214-215. 
  • Mero, A. & Komi, P.V. (1990) Reaction time and electromyographic activity during a sprint start. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology. Volume 61, Issue (1) pp. 73-80. 
  • Rengachary, J., d’Avossa, G., Sapir, A., Shulman, G.L. & Corbetta, M. (2009) Is the Posner Reaction Time Test More Accurate Than Clinical Tests in Detecting Left Neglect in Acute and Chronic Stroke? Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Volume 90, Issue, (12), pp. 2081-2088. 
  • Veness, D., Patterson, S.D., Jeffries, O. & Waldron, M. (2017) The effects of mental fatigue on cricket-relevant performance among elite players. Journal of Sports Sciences. Volume 35, Issue (24), pp.2461-2467.
  • Zhang, J., Chen, R., Wu, Y., Li, K., Wang, D., Liu, Y. & Li, Y. (2013) An EMG study on characteristics of premotor and motor components in an agility reaction time test on athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Volume 53, Issue (5), pp. 566-572. 

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